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Friday, 26 July 2013

Friday Blog: Newsnight in Eccles – An Alternative View

By Dr John Ashcroft, Chief Economist at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

This week, Newsnight’s Paul Mason visited Eccles to investigate the economic recovery and how it is affecting job growth in the North West. Eccles, why choose Eccles?

Well, we learned, there are 77 outlets selling alcohol within one kilometre along the high street. Do the maths, that’s one every 12 metres. Pawn shops and betting shops can be used to break up the pub crawl and provide additional funding en route. So, Paul asks, what can we do to restore the Eccles high street to its former glory?

It will take ten years, real jobs and training in skills to begin to restore the balance says Alec McFadden, from the Salford Unemployed Community Centre. There is no quick fix! Quite right, Alec. Alec has been engaged with this problem for some time now.

Eccles is what we call in economics “a structural problem” says the BBC presenter. No it’s not; it is representation of social deprivation in a specific area of Greater Manchester. It is also an example of what can happen to a high street when the Trafford Centre, two retail parks, a Costco, B & Q, Asda and Marks and Spencer open up within a ten-minute drive.

Newsnight could have made a visit to MediaCityUK, a great example of job creation and infrastructure investment into the new dynamic growth areas of digital and creative media. After all, it’s only ten minutes away by tram, a great example of infrastructure investment in Greater Manchester, part of the Transport for Greater Manchester Plan. Whilst there, Paul Mason could have visited the Salford University New Media Campus, after all Manchester has one of the largest university student populations in Europe. He could have arrived by plane, reminding viewers we have just bought Stansted. Had he done so, he would have passed the Airport Enterprise Zone en route within sight of the new Medi Park, both on track to create a substantial number of new jobs over the next five years within Greater Manchester.

On the way up to Manchester, Paul was in the Midlands to visit BSA Machine Tools. Now with 35 workers, Paul wanted to understand the constraints to growth. BSA Cycles Ltd and BSA Guns Ltd, also in Birmingham, once controlled 67 factories, employed 28,000 people and contained 25,000 machine tools. The now much smaller BSA Machine tools was struggling to expand again because of a lack of skilled labour and access to finance. Shocking, the problem - labour skills and those banks again.

Paul claimed: “It was said the recovery would be led by industry and exports to rebalance the economy.” Not really, the march of the makers rebuilding the workshop of the world was always a Whitehall dream. Most economists never really believed that anyway.

Will the problems of capacity constraints in Birmingham and Eccles lead to low growth in the UK economy as a whole? he asked. Of course not. Job creation continues at pace in the private sector. The problems exposed in this report are not “structural” problems; they are snap shots and create misleading perceptions of economic reality. Surely we can expect a little more than “it’s grim up North”? We expect a programme that shows a much more balanced view and avoids dangerous generalisations.

Missed the show? Watch it here and tell us your views: 


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